SMS is quickly becoming a redundant medium of communication among South African smartphone users, as instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are infinitely cheaper.
There is still a sizeable portion of the local population who do not own smartphones, however, and in this case SMS is still used for some communication.
As smartphones become cheaper however, the typical feature phone is becoming increasingly rare and subsequently the usage of SMS for messaging is dropping globally.
Mobile operators’ revenue from SMS is falling consistently while data revenue and usage continues to increase, and at some point it may make sense for networks to make SMS free as a value-add to win data customers.
MyBroadband spoke to local mobile networks about their plans for SMS and asked them whether they would make these messages free for their customers.
Cell C told MyBroadband that the decline in SMS is a global phenomenon.
“The decline in SMS is a global one and coincides with the rise in Instant Messaging services which give customers a much richer experience,” Cell C said.
“We have seen a decline in SMS usage, but there are still segments of customers where SMS is relevant and used.”
The company said SMS was already free on some of its contracts, with a fair usage policy in place to prevent excessive use.
“We already have made SMS ‘free’ on our MediaPlay contracts and give customers a monthly Fair Usage Limit of 500, 1000 or 5000 SMS’s per month,” the company said.
MTN said that it has seen a steady drop in SMS usage by customers on its network.
“MTN has seen a decline year-on-year in the usage of SMS on the network both on contract and prepaid customers.”
The company said that SMS is still used by some of its customers and it did not plan to make the service free in the near future.
“Currently MTN does not intend on making SMSs free for users on the network.”
“Despite the growth in data-based messaging applications, SMS is still used by many consumers and contributes a good portion to the revenue of MTN.”
Telkom told MyBroadband that SMS usage on its network had grown due to the exceptional growth in its customer base over the last year.
“Overall, SMS usage on our network has grown as a result of overall growth in our subscriber base but the overall usage per consumer has remained constant,” Telkom said.
“We do offer volume discounts for application-to-person SMSes (used mainly for business purposes).”
“Marketing messages are likely to decline with the advent of data-based messaging, but we expect that transactional messages will continue to use SMS.”
Telkom said it does offer free SMSes to customers depending on their bundles.
Postpaid customers receive 50 free SMSes per day on voice plans, and prepaid customers receive 50 free SMSes after sending five paid SMSes at R0.30 per SMS.
MyBroadband reached out to Vodacom for comment, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.